The Purpose of Life

God’s command to subdue the earth means for us to have mastery over it, all of it. But true mastery of anything cannot be accomplished without a thorough understanding of the thing to be mastered. With the authority to rule comes responsibility, the responsibility to rule well.

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“He who dies first with the most toys wins!” Maybe you’ve heard this once-popular saying, maybe not. Maybe you laughed when you first heard it. If you’re old enough, maybe you saw it on a bumper sticker back in the 80s and laughed. If you did laugh, maybe you thought, “Well, hell, what else is there really?”

This saying is a quote originally attributed to the flamboyant millionaire, Malcolm Forbes. Forbes was an American entrep- reneur who was prominently known as the publisher of Forbes magazine, a business that he inherited from his wealthy father. He was also known as an avid promoter of free market, laissez faire capitalism. He was known too for an extravagant lifestyle, for throwing large, expensive parties for his wealthy friends, for travel and for his collections of homes, yachts, aircraft, art, motorcycles, and Fabergé eggs.

Forbes’ quote serves to sum up the attitude of people like him, people who tend to be more hedonistic. They see life in terms of opportunities for self-indulgence, for pleasure. Me first, they think, my family and friends next – all who serve me, care for me, comfort me, and those who pleasure me. To these types of people, everybody else is just a potential friend/ally or a potential adversary /competition. True hedonists like Forbes believe that this is the highest good and proper aim of human life. I whole- heartedly disagree. I’m a Christian. I am also a Democrat.

I taught a lesson to second graders today. The subject was biodiversity – a compound word, I taught my students – the first part, bio, meaning life, the second part, diversity, meaning many different kinds. The lesson wasn’t really about life; it was about learning to learn. It was about having an open mind, learning to think critically, learning how to compare and contrast. The lesson included an exercise:  comparing and contrasting two different life forms, animals and plants. Yes, second graders are smart enough for this kind of learning, and they’re able to grasp these ideas if the information is presented to them in ways to which they can relate.

I shared with my students how, when I was in school, it was believed that all solid matter was either animal, vegetable or mineral – it was believed that there were only two kingdoms of life: animal and vegetable. Today, I told them, scientists recognize six different kingdoms of life. Life on earth is truly diverse.

A hand went up. “Yes,” I said, recognizing the student.

“What is life, Opa?” I like it that the students in the class I visit on a regular basis call me Opa. It’s what my grandchildren call me.

I might have been thrown off by this question, a deeper question, one that most would not expect a second grader to ask. But I came prepared. I knew how smart, how inquisitive these students are. So I had thought about it ahead of time, I did some research.

“What do you think life is?” I asked the student.

“A gift,” he said, using a rising voice inflection suggesting a question rather than an answer. I surmise that this is something he had been told by a parent, a pastor or another teacher.

“Yes,” I said, “I believe that life is a gift too, one to be treasured, one to be used to good purpose. But that doesn’t truly answer the question scientifically, does it? Are there any other ideas?” I asked. None were offered, so I endeavored to explain.

“It turns out,” I began, “science now believes that solid matter is either organic or inorganic. Organic matter is that which contains compounds including the carbon element. Compound, remember, is a word that means something made up of more than one part, like the compound word, biodiversity. Solid matter that does not contain carbon compounds, like rocks, cannot be alive. But not all organic matter is alive either. All of it either is or once was alive though. Live organic matter has purpose, its primary purpose, is to survive long enough to reproduce, to create new organic material. Organic matter which is not now alive has a purpose too; it feeds organic matter, either directly or indirectly, which is now living. Think of compost, decaying organic matter which we use to feed our garden plants. Think of worms, insect larva, and scavenger birds feeding on the carcasses of dead squirrels and other small animals.

So,” I told my students, “the scientific definition of life is this: It is a transitory state of organic matter, a state in progress of change during which new organic matter is created. This,” I told my students, “is the cycle of life.”

While my students were thinking about this, processing it, I moved on to the exercise, the compare-and-contrast part of my lesson. We focused the rest of our time talking about the similarities and differences between plants and animals. And this, their answers, assured me that they understood how to think critically. I hope they will continue to think critically for their entire lives.

After returning home, I got to thinking about part of my lesson, that part having to do with life, specifically the part about the purpose of life. Is that all there is, I thought, surviving long enough to reproduce? For some forms of life, sure, but, no… surely not for higher forms of life, surely not for humans. I turned to the Study Bible online and found this explaining the famous passage in chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes: 19For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. 20 All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust21Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?

Hold on, didn’t God set man apart from the other animals, gave us dominion over all the earth? That makes us special, does it not? Yes.

The word dominion means to rule or power over.  God has sovereign power over His creation and has delegated the authority to mankind to have dominion over the plants and other animals (Genesis 1:26). King David reinforces this in Psalm 8:6: “You made [mankind] rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet.” So humanity was meant to “subdue” the earth (Genesis 1:28 to hold a position of command over it; we were placed in a superior role and we are to exercise control over the earth, its flora and fauna.

God’s command to subdue the earth means for us to have mastery over it, all of it. But true mastery of anything cannot be accomplished without a thorough understanding of the thing to be mastered. With the authority to rule comes responsibility, the responsibility to rule well. There is an inherent accountability in God’s command to subdue the earth. Therefore, we have a collective responsibility to learn all there is to know about the earth, its occupants, and our place in the cosmos. We have a collective responsibility to protect and defend the environment.

The word, subdue, doesn’t necessarily imply violence or mistreatment. It can also mean “to bring under cultivation.” It can mean “to love and take care of” and that is the meaning I believe is conveyed in God’s Word. Therefore, understanding its true meaning, we are to be stewards, good stewards, of God’s creation. We are to love ourselves, love our neighbors and all of creation. That is our purpose. That is our greater purpose. But, yes, in due course, we will perform our basic purposes as living organisms too: We will survive to reproduce. But we will also do these things: we will protect and nurture our young as all other higher animals do; we will toil to produce so that we might share with our issue and with our neighbors, especially those who struggle, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually; we will contribute to the common good; we will leave a legacy, and; in due course, we will return to the dust from whence we came, thus completing the life cycle.

Please feel free to comment on this posting.

Published in: on March 30, 2017 at 3:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Joy ~ The True Happiness

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“Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.”             
Proverbs 3:13-18

When I read the above passage, my understanding of what God is telling us is that there is wisdom, lasting joy, for those of us who are able find contentment in life, self-confidence and peace. To me the passage means that this state of mind is preferable to the transitory feelings of happiness which may come and last for moments or for days. Happiness, psychologists tell us, is the emotion we feel from obtaining new material things, winning a race, for obtaining a goal. But the happy feeling never lasts. The new car smell doesn’t last. So, on to the next challenge, the next… desire. The accumulation of happy feelings over time, however, can boost our base level emotion. But the ups and downs in life tend to cancel each other out. So how do we find lasting joy?

Our Sunday school lesson this week was on this subject, the difference between joy and happiness and the relationship between the two. There was, as usual in our class, much discussion; people had different opinions, and that is as it should be. But joy, in a Biblical sense, I believe, is not an emotion. It is not based on something positive happening in life. It is rather an attitude of the heart or of the spirit. To have it, I believe, one must be connected with God, or to other people in our lives, or with nature, or by appreciating the arts, or by growing passionate about the things we do, our jobs, our hobbies. It requires an acceptance of life as it is in the present. To me, joy is the “true” happiness.

During our lesson, I interrupted our teacher, perhaps too soon in the lesson, to opine that happiness is to joy as the weather is to climate. I don’t think that anyone in the class quite understood that. But let me here try to explain what I meant. The weather in any particular place on the earth changes constantly. Climates in different places are more permanent; they are the cumulative or aggregates of the weather conditions and they are the driving determinates of weather conditions. In a tropical climate, the weather is less changeable. It is quite warm and humid most of the time. In an arctic climate, the weather is cold and quite dry most of the time. In a temperate climate, seasons are more pronounced. Here in Texas which has a temperate, subtropical climate, the weather changes from day to day, often from hour to hour. Yesterday, the 24th of January 2017, the temperature mid day in Dallas was near 80 degrees Fahrenheit. By tonight, the temperature will be in the low 40s.

Sometimes life does not treat us well, like a cold snap. We may experience financial devastation, become ill, go through a divorce, develop a chronic illness, become disabled, experience the death of a loved one. We all have to adapt to growing older. These things, these transitions or challenges are all aspects of life, and we all experience them to varying degrees until the day we die. These things can sap our joy. But if we are tethered spiritually, emotionally to something greater, we can persevere with lasting joy. I have known people like this, people who had a glowing countenance, a shining spirit.  My wife’s grandmother was such a person. We called her, Ms. D.

Ms. D. was a retired school teacher, a widow who gave herself to others. She was the calm, quiet presence in a room when others in my wife’s family bickered with one another. Despite crippling Rheumatoid arthritis, she had a perpetual smile on her face and she always had a kind word. She was brilliant — studied mathematics in college but was denied a degree in the discipline because she was a woman. Disappointed but not defeated, she found another, better calling as a teacher. She gave herself to young children, and she loved them. She loved our Lord Jesus too — loved to minister to friends in her Bible class on Sundays and she encouraged her family, including my wife, in the ways of our Lord. Ms D found wisdom. She got understanding. Ms. D knew joy — the “real” happiness.

Some people believe that joy is a conscious commitment to be happy, to have a sense of contentment for the moment despite life’s challenges. Joy, they understand, is an internal, lasting emotional condition. I too believe this, that we can decide to pursue meaningful, rewarding relationships and life pursuits. We can grow in wisdom and nurture joy.

Some people believe that joy is just a synonym for happiness, a word for great happiness. Yes, in certain contexts, the word is used that way. But I believe the word, as used in Scripture, has a different meaning — a more meaningful meaning.

My life changed for the better when my granddaughter brought her daughter, my precious Kaleiyah, into my life. The times I have spent with this very special child, caregiving, teaching and nurturing, have lifted my base level of happiness permanently. I shared this with my Sunday school class and this I know they understood. Although Kaleiyah is no longer with me on a daily basis as she was for a few years during her formative childhood, she will forever be in my heart. She may grow up or move permanently away, but she will always be with me. When I do get to spend time with her, I am happy. When I don’t get to see her for days and sometimes weeks at a time, I am unhappy. Still, she remains a source of lasting joy.

Psychologists tell us that when someone experiences joyfulness, physiological and biochemical alterations occur that encourage a sense of well-being which completely alter the negative views of life. Joy is an attitude or a belief, which soothes even in the most sorrowful of situations. Joy comes from within; it is an internal view.

So, how can we pursue joy? Is it sufficient to constantly seek more and more heightened pleasures? I think not.

Dr. Cheryl A. McDonald, licensed clinical psychologist, noted author, lecturer and director of the Health Psychology Center has some suggestions in the secular vein.

  1. Choosing to Smile (I don’t do this enough) and consciously deciding to have a good day induces endorphins and other uplifting chemicals in the brain. Nothing can dampen your mood when you know the techniques involving how to bring on joy. Everyone can indeed develop inner joy. Using these techniques can bring on temporary happiness, however practice frequently throughout the day and on a daily basis will increase that baseline happiness level and bring about the more consistent feeling of joy.
  2. Meditation and Imagining (I don’t do this enough) that you have received something you wish for will improve happiness which is of short duration. However, it is important to avoid mixing this fantasy with reality. Imagining or wishing you had something is very temporary. With practice, meditation and becoming mindful in the spiritual sense will bring about lasting joy.
  3. Positive Thinking (I don’t do this nearly enough) or making it your goal to think positive often brings happiness to the surface quickly. Adopting a positive attitude can indeed improve the mood and bring on temporary happiness. Regardless of the problem, situation, or circumstance, people do get to choose whether they want to feel happy and joyful, or depressed and sad. The key is to practice this technique and make it a daily goal. Practice recognizing the simple delights in life.
  4. Feeling Grateful (This I do a lot) about what you do have is a deeper emotion and consciously practicing or focusing on what you have in life will increase that baseline level and bring on the lasting feeling of joy. Feeling grateful for your health, employment, family, friends, home, etc., basically makes people feel content.
  5. Notice Immediate Surroundings  (This I doStop and become aware of the positive aspects of your life. Most will find plenty of evidence that happiness is sometimes hidden in many areas, people just have to be aware.  Consistently stopping and noticing the positive pieces of the immediate surroundings will consistently increase awareness and increase that baseline level to feel consistent joy. Stop….Ask yourself, “What is pleasurable about this moment”?
  6. Become Active and Support (This is what I endeavor to do most) a cause that you really believe is worthy. Or become active on a smaller scale by practicing random acts of kindness. Helping others increases the endorphin like chemicals in the brain.  Becoming active in a cause helps people feel in control or empowered, especially when facing a difficult life challenge.
  7. And I would add, seek to further a relationship with your “higher” power.

A person’s genetic baseline level of happiness, according to Dr. McDonald, is fixed on the personality style in which they were born. So, on a certain level, some of us have to struggle more to be anything but a sourpuss. But this baseline level of happiness, she contends, can increase over time. People can receive the internal feeling consistent with joy by practicing certain behaviors and techniques. So do strive to feel the consistency of joy, and, of course have a little happiness in your life today! Life can be worth the living.

Please feel free to post a comment on this.

Published in: on January 25, 2017 at 11:24 am  Leave a Comment  

The Christmas Morning Fort

We have been using Max Lucado’s study guide, “Because of Bethlehem,” for Advent in Sunday school this year. It’s been a great guide to help us prepare our hearts and minds for the big day soon to come. Christmas is just two weeks away.

This morning’s lesson, based on Session Three of Lucado’s video series, was: “God Guides the Wise.” It was about the three wise men who followed the Star of Bethlehem to find and worship the newborn King of the Jews. Mostly, it was about how they deservedly earned their moniker, and how true wisdom is not so much about practical matters, but more about living a good and kind life with deeds done in humility. It was powerful! The discussion questions, and some of what others in our class shared, were moving. But most moving to me were the memories that welled up within me, memories of past Christmas experiences.

One discussion question about holiday travel brought back vivid memories. The memories were about times when I had behaved poorly on Christmas mornings, not with humility at all. The question was based on a passage in Matthew, Chapter 12:2. It reads, “And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they (the wise men) departed to their own country by another way.” The message in this passage clearly suggests that God imparts wisdom to those of us who are open to receive it.

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In my memory, I was reliving how I felt many Christmas mornings years ago while driving the miles between our home in Lawton, Oklahoma to the home of my wife’s parents in Weatherford, Texas. The trip took us about two hours, one way, and our two boys, long since grown, barely had time these mornings to open their gifts before we had to be on the road. It was a family expectation that we would spend Christmas Day with my wife’s parents. I was resentful, and I’m sure that I must have complained to my wife about it, in the process making her Christmases less enjoyable too. Shame on me.

One Christmas, perhaps because of my attitude about these Christmas morning road trips, my wife’s parents agreed to come to our place. On arrival, their attitude was much more joyful than mine had been when we traveled to their place. My wife’s dad was especially joyful – excited actually. He had brought with him a special Christmas gift for his grandsons: a prefabricated play fort.

Towed behind his van was a trailer with the fort’s component parts: lumber, nails, shingles, bags of concrete mix, four very long telephone poles, and tools for the construction. His design, quite ingenious actually, was for an enclosed room with a floor, a gabled roof and shuttered windows, all perched about a dozen feet off the ground on a tower of telephone poles. The design incorporated a rope ladder suspended from an opening in the floor of the elevated room. The fort, as he had envisioned it, would be constructed in one corner of our backyard.  I would be his construction helper… only I had not been given advance warning about his plan for us to labor together Christmas Day. Surprise! Did I mention that it was freezing cold that Christmas morning? No, I didn’t.

Attitude? Yeah, I had one. But when I saw how excited my boys were and how they loved their grandfather — Popo they called him — for his loving gift, well, I sat down with dad and listened to his plan over a cup of coffee. The more I listened, the more I got over my attitude and resolved to spend a memorable Christmas, and a few days thereafter, working side-by-side with him.

Tom was his name, I always called him this, or Popo, never dad. But, not having had a dad of my own while growing up, he became my surrogate dad. He’s gone now… been gone for several years. But the more I think about him, the more he becomes my true dad.

Holes for the telephone poles were dug with a posthole digger that dad had brought with him on the trailer from Weatherford, and a “sharpshooter” shovel that I just happened to have. I would dig awhile, then dad would spell me. The frozen ground made for hard work, but we dug together till noon. Then we took a long break for lunch prepared by the ladies. We finished the day with the poles set in concrete, perfectly aligned and angled to mount the tower’s room. Dad had it all planned. I imagine that he had spent countless hours with his design, calculating just how to ensure that all the parts for the fort would line up just right.

I was glad for the warmth of our fireplace that evening after we had quit for the day.

It would take us several more days before the whole project was finished. In that time, we grew closer, dad sharing his passions for politics and Dallas Cowboy football. He shared more than this with me too. He shared his wisdom — wisdom born not of facts or reason, but wisdom born of love.

God, I miss that man…

Published in: on December 11, 2016 at 3:40 pm  Comments (3)  

Choosing to Live a Second-Line Life

My mother and I went to see a movie in 1959, Imitation of Life. I got my first glimpse into what it means to be living a Second-Line life in this movie. Although I didn’t understand it then, I did feel it.

I was more than just a little depressed over a frustrating, painful, recurring family situation. I was unable to sleep much because of this and got up early; the sun would be hours before creeping over the horizon. I made myself some coffee and sat down to think things through. After a bit, I decided that the situation was beyond my control. I remembered that this rollercoaster situation had resolved itself, at least to a degree, several times before. I concluded that it would probably do so again. I reasoned that it would do me no good, would in fact do me harm, to worry about it. So I decided to take my mind off of it. To do this, I started “Second-Line” living. I started celebrating some of the best times of my life.

secondline“The tradition of the Second Line originated in New Orleans, dating back to the early 1800’s when slaves and free people of color created what are known as ‘jazz funerals.’ In these funerals, the ‘first line’ is made up of the family, walking slowly and mournfully to the cemetery. But when the burial is over, the ‘second line’, composed of a jazz band and friends, begin marching through the streets, joyfully dancing and celebrating the life of the deceased, and helping release his or her soul” (from Citizens of Hope, Clayton Oliphant & Mary Brooke Casad, Abingdon Press, 2016, pgs. 87-88).

I had had enough of mourning what could not be undone, what I alone could not fix. I prayed about it, then I buried it. I picked up my iPad and started making a list — counting my blessings.

The concept of Second-Line Living has a scriptural basis in the Gospel of John, Chapter 11, wherein Jesus raises his friend, Lazarus, from the dead: 38 Again feeling very upset, Jesus came to the tomb. It was a cave with a large stone covering the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Move the stone away.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “But, Lord, it has been four days since he died. There will be a bad smell.” 40 Then Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they moved the stone away from the entrance. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. 42 I know that you always hear me, but I said these things because of the people here around me. I want them to believe that you sent me.” 43 After Jesus said this, he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with pieces of cloth, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take the cloth off of him and let him go.”

The cloth in this story which bound Lazarus symbolizes that which burdens us, hinders us from living free, preventing us from seeing the beautiful things in our lives and doing good and beautiful things in compliance with God’s commandments, most particularly, loving our neighbors as ourselves.

These are a few, but only a few, of the highlights in my life so far. The list I made on my iPad went on and on and on. I’m not bragging, but I truly have lived a blessed life. The few highlights that I’m choosing to share here serve to illustrate how I focused on the positive to get beyond the pain that I was feeling. They are in order as they occurred to me for purposes of this listing (not necessarily in order of best to less than best, nor are they in chronological order):

  • My second-marriage wedding day (my first marriage wasn’t so wonderful)
  • Opening night of our high school operetta, South Pacific, with me in one of the leading roles, Emile DeBecque
  • Holding my first grandchild who was just days old
  • Being cheered by my OCS (Officer Candidate School) battery candidate contemporaries after winning an inter-battery PT competition in the horizontal ladders event
  • Completing my helicopter tactical instrument check ride in the Army’s Rotary Wing Flight School with a flawless performance
  • The sunset celebration of my mother’s life on a beach in California with my wife, my siblings, their spouses and children
  • Being present in the delivery room to observe the birth of my second son
  • Skiing in the Austrian Alps with my family
  • Being asked to serve and serving for two years as Lay Leader for a local congregation of the United Methodist Church
  • As mission pilot-in-command in a CH-34 helicopter, performing an emergency landing necessitated by an engine failure and avoiding any damage to the aircraft or injury to my passengers
  • Teaching my first class in a public high school after becoming a certified teacher of Social Studies subjects
  • Receiving many compliments after delivering the eulogy at my mother-in-law’s funeral
  • Being asked to officiate the exchange of vows ceremony in Bali, Indonesia (after the official/civil marriage in Singapore) for my second son and daughter-in-law who is now best friend

People of faith, by means of their faith in Christ Jesus, can enter into a new life. The fact of physical death no longer has control over them. The Apostle Paul puts it this way, O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting” (1 Corinthians 15:15)?  The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, the victory over sin, and over all that burdens us in this life, is available through our Lord, Jesus the Christ. Jesus, in the story of raising Lazarus from the dead, is making a promise to us about how we can live our lives, not just how they will end.

All of us, to varying degrees, are limited by fear. We fear embarrassment. We fear abandonment. We fear failure. We fear death. This is what Jesus is addressing. This is from what Jesus wants us to be free. Like the First and Second lines of jazz funerals, we can grieve the loss of loved ones, grieve the consequences of failure and disappointment, grieve our limitations, but we need not allow this loss to forever hinder our lives. Life goes on with us, whether we willingly or unwillingly participate.

My mother and I went to see a movie in 1959, “Imitation of Life.” I got my first glimpse into what it means to be living a Second-Line life in this movie. Although I didn’t understand it then, I did feel it.

Launa Turner plays the part of a beautiful woman in this movie, one who was born half white and half black. Although her black half was not at all physically apparent, it was a burden to her. The reality of it, her attempts to hide from it, fear that she might be found out, was a burden, one that hindered her both socially and professionally. Worse, she allowed this fear to alienate her from her birth mother. She could neither receive her mother’s love nor express the love she felt. Her life was not free. But the movie had a tear-jerker ending. The mother gets her last wish, a lavish funeral complete with a beautiful, horse-drawn hearse and a Second-Line Jazz band. Just before the funeral procession sets off, the daughter pushes through the crowd of mourners to throw herself upon her mother’s casket, begging forgiveness. Casting off her burden of denial, she is now free to live a fuller, richer life.

Fear has been described as False Evidence Appearing Real. The false evidence is our mistaken belief that nothing can improve after a tragedy. At these times it is easy to forget that God is present and that God’s favorite thing to do is transformation – change for the better. Tragedies, like the shootings in Orlando this year, the Newtown shootings in 2012 and others,  are events which need to be grieved. They speak to how fragile life really is. But this is First-Line thinking. Second-Line thinking reminds us that these things do not need to define us or limit us. We can, and should, respond by doing all that we can to prevent such senseless deaths in the future. But, politically frustrating as our attempts are to prevent or limit future such things from happening, faith in Christ and an understanding of God’s loving presence offers us hope.

Grace and Peace

Published in: on October 16, 2016 at 1:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

Reading the Bible Literately Rather than Literally

“So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  Proverbs 3:4-6

Spoiler Alert: If your Christian faith depends on believing literally every book, chapter and verse of the Bible, you probably shouldn’t read this. Doing so might make you uncomfortable. It might even make you mad at me, and I don’t want to make anyone mad at me. However, if you don’t believe the world is just 6000 years old and that dinosaurs once coexisted with mankind, you are welcome — read on.

If you are reading this, you probably understand that the two words, literal and literate, while related, have very different meanings. If you don’t know this, by the time you finish this story, you should.

We have a beautiful and smart great granddaughter who is a second grader this year. She often spends afternoons, evenings and sometimes whole days and nights with us. We consider ourselves blessed to have her so often. When she is with us, we always ask her about school. We often help her with her homework and, even more often, we read with her. I’m amazed at how well she can read already, due in part, I think, because she loves to read and because she wants to please us. She has read all of the children’s books, over and over again, that we have here for her. So, now, she’s reading to us from a children’s book of Bible stories. So far she’s read the Creation Story and the Story of Noah and the Ark. After each she asked me, “Opa, is this really true?” Both times I told her that some people believe these stories are ‘literally’ true. Some people believe that they are not true at all. And some people, like me, I told her, believe that they are stories that are not literately true, but stories which tell greater truths from within. She’s still struggling to understand what I mean by this. But then, she’s only seven years old – excuse me – seven and three-quarters.

I suggested a reading session while dinner was being prepared the last time she spent the night with us. She said, “Okay, Opa. But this time I want to read from a ‘real’ Bible.”

“A ‘real’ Bible? Oh, you mean one like your Oma and I read from. Okay,” I said, and I picked up an old, small, ‘red letter’ Bible from the book section of our three-section wall unit. The books in it include a set of Funk and Wagnall encyclopedias that have not been disturbed since we discovered Google on our computers, our cell phones and iPads.

“That was my grandmother’s personal Bible,” we heard my wife say. She had been watching and listening to us from the kitchen. “Please be careful with it.”

“We will, Oma,” we said, almost in union.

I sat with my granddaughter on my lap in my recliner chair and carefully unzipped the precious little Bible. Looking for nothing in particular, I opened it to a book in the Old Testament section, I Samuel, and started reading out loud.

“Gee, those are strange sounding names, Opa.”

“Yes, honey. Most of these names are hard to pronounce, and we would have to read quite a bit from this book of the Bible before any of it would make much sense. Samuel, the author of this book, is telling us about God’s establishment of a political system in ancient Israel, one headed by a human king. The first king’s name was Saul.

Let’s turn to something more familiar, something from the New Testament. This is the part of the Bible that tells us about Jesus and his ministry.”

“I know that, Opa.”

To that, I could not help but crack a smile; Obviously, I thought, my granddaughter’s Sunday school teachers are doing a good job. I turned to the Gospel of Matthew, figuring that we could find something easier here, one of the Gospels, to read and to understand. Right off my granddaughter noticed the red letter text.

“Why are some of the words red, Opa, and some are not?”

“The publisher of this particular Bible decided to help us see what the original author claimed to be the actual words of Jesus, honey.”

“So, this Matthew guy actually heard Jesus say these words?”

“That’s what we believe, honey. Matthew was one of the original disciples, one of Jesus’ apostles.” And, with that, my granddaughter started reading before I could select an appropriate chapter and verse. She started reading from Chapter 5, verse 29: “And if thy right eye offends thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”

Oh, oh, I thought.

“And if thy right hand offends thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee…”

“Opa, does this mean I have to cut off my hand to go to heaven?”

“No, honey, I don’t believe that’s what Jesus was really saying, [if in fact He actually said these exact words. Some people might believe that whatever member of the body sins must be sacrificed. But people who know the Bible best tell us that Jesus was speaking metaphorically to stress how important it is that we not sin. Surely Jesus knew that sin originates from within, not by the body member used in the commission]. He was telling his disciples that they should obey God with all their hearts, souls and minds. He was saying that we can’t just love some neighbors and not others.”

I did not actually say the words in the previous paragraph that are offset by brackets. Had my granddaughter been a bit older, I might have. Likewise, we did not share the following dialogue which is offset by brackets.

[“What does metaphorically mean, Opa?”

“A metaphor is a figure of speech or a way of speaking in which a term or a phrase is used which it is not literally true. We sometimes use metaphors to suggest a resemblance. Like I might say, ‘I love you to the moon and back.’ The phrase, ‘to the moon and back,’ helps me express how I love you a whole lot. Speaking metaphorically means using metaphors.

A parable is a metaphorical story from within which a truth is revealed. The story doesn’t have to be literally true, and sometimes it’s even more effective if it isn’t.  Jesus, we know, used a lot of parables to reveal truths about the nature of God and the Kingdom of Heaven.”]

We did share the following dialogue…

“I’m glad I won’t have to cut my hand of to go to heaven, Opa. But, y’know, we have one neighbor that I really don’t like very much.”

“That’s okay, honey. It’s hard to like some people. God knows that. But loving people isn’t a matter of how we feel about them. Loving people is all about how we treat them.”

Again, had my granddaughter been older, we might have shared the following in dialogue. But we did not. With the following, I am editorializing to express my opinion, my belief about the Bible, how it came into being, and how we should interpret it.

[“Why do you say, ‘if in fact He actually said these words, Opa?’”

“We believe that Matthew, the tax collector, one of Jesus’ apostles, was the author of this book, but we have no way of proving this. It could have been some other Matthew who wrote it or someone wanting us to think the real Matthew wrote it so that we might more readily believe what is written. And, even if the original Matthew did write it, he would have written it sometime after Jesus spoke about this to his disciples. He could have remembered it perfectly, verbatim, or he could have used his own words. Without primary sources of evidence, it’s impossible for us to know. There is also the fact that, so far as we know, the Gospel of Matthew was originally written in the Greek language. It was then translated to Latin before being translated to English and other modern languages. Matthew, like Jesus, spoke a different language, one called Aramaic. Did the Apostle Matthew study and learn Greek? For what purpose? Or did he know the language all along? We do not know. But, if he did not already know it, how long did it take him to learn? How dim in his memory might have the exact words of Jesus been before he wrote them down?

It is possible, and I choose to believe this, that the book we now call The Gospel According to Matthew was actually written or revised from the real Matthew’s writings in 325 AD during the First Nicean Council. This council was called by the emperor Constantine I of Rome. According to historical accounts, Constantine was an unbaptized catechumen, or neophyte, but he presided over the opening session of the council and took part in the discussions. As emperor, he called for the council of Christian Bishops to solve a problem which was created in the Eastern Church by Arianism, a belief that Christ is not divine but a created being. Constantine, in my opinion, wanted a reconciled Christian faith to help unify his empire.

So, the story of this book of the Bible, The Gospel According to Matthew, and the whole Bible for that matter, is something of a mystery, a controversy among Christians like me. Christians like me endeavor to reconcile what we know to be true owing to science (knowledge and reason) with what we choose to believe from scripture and tradition. We accept that passages and whole chapters of the Bible incorporate pagan beliefs, myths and parables such as the creation story, Noah and the great flood, God’s tormenting of Job, Jonah being swallowed whole by a fish and surviving. But, we can still believe the truth contained within these stories, can we not? Yes, we can. Do I personally believe that Matthew and the rest of the Bible is the Inspired Word of God? Yes, but metaphorically speaking.

I am a United Methodist and we United Methodists have the Wesleyan quadrilateral to guide our understanding, our beliefs about God. We have Scripture, Tradition, Knowledge and Reason. Scripture, we believe, is primary. But United Methodists are not required to believe that the Bible is inerrant. I am one who doesn’t.

Basic literacy is one’s ability to read words and understand them literally. Functional literacy is being able to use one’s ability to read, understand the words in context and apply this understanding usefully in daily and professional life. This is a skill which people possess in varying degrees. There is also a kind of functional literacy called “rational” literacy. This is literacy that allows learning, growing in our understanding of the world and all of God’s creation. To learn, we must have an open mind, one that is open to unlearning. It’s the kind of literacy that scientists must have.”]

Now, for you my reader, I will tell you the truth. This exchange with my great granddaughter really happened. But it happened Friday afternoon. I am writing this three days later, on Monday morning. I don’t really remember the exact words that my granddaughter and I exchanged. I have exaggerated some and expanded our dialogue some too. I have done so to make this a better story, one that communicates a message. But I have endeavored to be truthful where I have done these things. Yes, I have editorialized to communicate my beliefs about the Bible. My story is not word-for-word, literally true. My belief is that the Bible is not word-for-word, literally true either. The Bible is not a science book. Neither is it a collection of its many authors’ affidavits. It is a truth book rather than a true book. There is a difference.

So, what should we make of the introductory passage from Proverbs…”Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight?” Does this mean that we should take everything we read in the Bible literally? Should we do whatever any preacher, prophet or king tells us to do? Cut off our own hand? No, I don’t believe so. When we lean on our own understandings we are using our abilities to see, hear, taste, touch, and reason. God gave us these abilities, so why shouldn’t we use them? Well, our own senses sometimes fail us. Our reasoning sometimes leads to wrong conclusions; we are fallible.

Those words, “lean not on your own understanding,” were written several thousand years ago, we believe by King Solomon, reputedly, the wisest man who ever lived. Why would he write them? Well, kings in those days had a habit of telling other people what to do, and sometimes punishing them, even killing them if they disobeyed. Most people couldn’t even read in those times, but they could hear what others read to them — a decree from the King. By telling people not to think, he made himself God’s chosen leader and supreme decision maker.  Brilliant — if not so wise for all times!

What then are we in this day and age to do with this? I say, an appropriate interpretation of that passage, which surely was inspired by God, might be: do not lean “only” on your own understanding. Leaning implies putting all or a significant amount of your weight on something which, if moved, might cause you to fall. So, if something confuses you — doesn’t make sense to you, ask others what they think, friends, pastors, other Bible scholars, linguists, philosophers – and not just people in your own like-thinking circle of acquaintances. Just know that all will not agree. Google it. And after all of this, take it to God directly. Pray about it. Acknowledge Him, trust Him, and He will make your paths straight. He will give you clarity. About that, I believe Solomon was right.

Please feel free to post a comment in response to this story. I would enjoy discussing it.

Published in: on September 5, 2016 at 12:26 pm  Comments (1)  

Transgender Discrimination ~ Understanding The Bathroom Wars

It’s a distraction from real problems, honey — problems like poverty, injustice, public safety. Some in government don’t want to talk about these things because realistic ideas to make them better conflict with their ideologies and other agendas.

Sometime ago I promised my preciously little great grand- daughter that she could ask me anything and that, to the best of my ability, I would always answer her honestly — but appropriately. Honesty has not proved to be a challenge for me. Coming up with age appropriate answers sometimes have been, however; she is, afterall, only seven. Take for example the time she asked me from where babies come out of their mommies’ bellies. Fortunately, she had already figured this out for herself and answered it in the phrasing of her question to me. She was just seeking confirmation. Whew!

Recently, after I had been back from our month-long trip to Asia only a day or two, my little darling was dropped off by her mother for Opa-provided daycare. I was still kicked-back in my recliner after having just finished my morning walk with Benji, my dog. My little darling crawled up in the chair with me for some morning snuggle time. What a joy. Then, after a few minutes of quiet time, her attention was drawn to a huge stack of magazines on our coffee table. Funny that we still call it a coffee table since we never drink coffee in the front room where it rests. The table is just for walking around — where we stack magazines and yet-to-be-read mail after separating that which might matter from all the junk that shows up daily. My little darling slipped down from my lap and stood looking at something on the coffee table for a few moments. On top of one of the stacks of magazines, my stack of ‘The Week’ magazines, was a recent edition featuring an illustration showing the back of a little girl’s head, her hair in pigtails. The little girl’s image was facing two restroom doors, one with the ubiquitous male symbol and one with the equally ubiquitous female symbol. The symbols are both ubiquitous because they appear everywhere and always side-by-side or across a hall from one another in public places. The symbols were shown throwing rocks at each other. Above the magazine’s cover illustration was the title of a highlighted article found within, “Bathroom Wars”.

“Opa, what does bathroom wars mean?”

Oh, my God – now how do I explain this?

“Come here, honey,” I said. “Sit on my lap, I’ll try to explain.

God makes girls and God makes boys. But sometimes boys don’t feel right about being boys; they want to be girls. Sometimes girls feel this way too; they don’t feel right in girl bodies and want to be boys. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. People have different opinions about why this happens. Some say it’s just a mix-up; the natural feelings these persons have just aren’t correct for the bodies they were born with – that it’s not a choice they can make. Others say that it’s a perverted or bad choice that these persons make.”

“Really?!?!”

“Yes, honey. Really.”

“But what does this have to do with bathrooms?”

“Well, everybody needs to use the bathroom from time to time. And those who have or once had boy bodies but now look and act like girls need to go too.”

“Well, I don’t see what difference it makes, Opa.”

“I don’t either, honey,” I said. “But some people really think it does. Some people are making a big fuss about it.”

“Well, Opa. I’ll promise you one thing: I’ll always want to be a girl.”

With that, my little darling’s curiosity was satisfied – the issue was settled. But I can easily image that, had she been a bit more inquisitive, a bit more adult, our dialogue might have continued as follows…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Why, Opa? Are boys and girls only now feeling confused?

“No, honey,” I said. “I’m pretty sure that there have always been persons who haven’t felt right in the bodies with which they were born. But our society is just now learning to accept these persons as natural children of God. Sadly, some people will never be able to. They think that they can force these persons to behave the way they think they should behave by forcing them to dress appropriate for the bodies they were born with and to use correspondingly appropriate bathrooms. They are justifying laws restricting non-gender appropriate bathroom use by claiming that these persons are a threat to children. But I think this is just scare tactic politics.”

“Why, Opa?”

“It’s a distraction from real problems, honey — problems like poverty, injustice, public safety. Some in government don’t want to talk about these things because realistic ideas to make them better conflict with their ideologies and other agendas.”

“Doesn’t God love these persons who aren’t happy with their bodies?”

“Yes, honey, God loves all His children.”

“Then why did he create them to be so confused? And if God didn’t create them to be confused, aren’t they sinning?”

“Good question, honey. But there’s a Bible passage that might help us to understand. It’s in the Gospel according to John, Chapter 9, verses 2 and 3… ‘His disciples asked him, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus. ‘This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

“I’m still confused, Opa. What does being born blind have to do with this?”

“I don’t blame you, honey. This is a very difficult issue to understand. Someday you will have your own understanding. Mine is like this: All babies are born different, some pretty like you, some not quite so pretty. Some are born with deformities, like being blind, or without arms or legs. But this does not make them bad persons. Persons born with a disconnect between their physical selves and their sexual identity aren’t bad people either – not as I understand the passage in the Book of John that I just shared. To me, ‘the works of God,’ some translations read, ‘workings of God should be manifested,’ refers to how we are to relate to people who are born different from ourselves. God works through us. He, I think, challenges us to show grace, to love others despite how they are different from us.”

After thinking this over awhile, my little darling said, “Well, I love everybody, Opa. But some are more special to me.”

“I know, honey. Some people are more special to me too!”

Please feel free to comment on this post. Use it, if you wish, but please let others know from where you got it.

Published in: on June 26, 2016 at 3:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Do We Have Free-will or Don’t We?

“An unexamined faith is not worth having, for fundamentalism and uncritical certitude entail the rejection of one of the great human gifts: that of free-will, of the liberty to make up our own minds based on evidence and tradition and reason.”

 ~  Jon Meacham

fish

It’s not like this question hasn’t been hotly debated for hundreds of years, nor is it for a lack of material on the Internet about this. But, you see, I’m a Methodist, so I believe, consistent with the Wesleyan tradition of Arminianism, that we do have free-will – at least, I’m supposed to believe that we do.

We had an interesting discussion at prayer breakfast about this recently. It was interesting mostly because the discussion didn’t last very long. My prayer breakfast friends were obviously uncomfortable with the subject. Nevertheless, the debate about this is interesting to me, so I have endeavored to study it.

It was one of my Christian friends who brought up the subject – he shared that the Bible study group he attends weekly has been discussing the question of whether angelic beings have free-will. So, naturally, the great challenger of orthodoxy here asked whether any of us truly do have free-will. I pointed out how different, fresh out of the womb, each of us is, how science is discovering more and more every day about how our brains work, how none of our differing intellectual capacities, biases and predilections are purely the product of nurture. Twin studies have confirmed this. Oh some of our differences are the result of nurture, sure: those of us born and raised in Mormon families and not inclined to thinking critically are most likely to grow up believing Mormon doctrine, or professing to believe it; those of us born and raised in Protestant or Roman Catholic families are most likely to remain faithful to our origins and upbringings too. Either this or we shun religion altogether. And the greatest determinant of political preference is said to be that of one’s parents, especially the preference of the dominant parent. One of my prayer group friends substantiated this by saying that, had he been born in a Muslim country, to a Muslim household, he would be a good Muslim today. Few, like myself, have made the leap from one faith to another and it is my belief that most who leave their faith tradition of heritage abandon religious affiliations altogether.

My wife, who was there at the prayer breakfast, quipped, “You’re not becoming a Presbyterian are you?”

How often do we hear the faithful say things like, “Let go and let God,” “Nothing happens outside of God’s will,” and “God’s will be done.” Yet we believe that He has given us free-will, that we have the freedom to usurp His will, at least temporarily. In Leslie Weatherhead’s book “The Will of God,” he writes of three different kinds of God’s will:  God’s intentional will, God’s circumstantial will, and God inevitable will.  So, according to Weatherhead, both our free agency and God’s will have limits. Not even God can have things more than one way at a time. Interesting…

Aside from Bible passages that argue for free-will (there are as many or more that argue for predestination), what is there from the secular world that can help us understand? Well, there are the physical sciences of evolution, genetics and physiology. These all support the argument that our choices are influenced, if not wholly determined, by factors beyond our control — determinism. Then, there are the psychological sciences.

Humanistic psychologists say that we have free-will. They base this on the assumption that not all behavior is determined. Personal agency is the term that they use for the exercise of free-will. This refers to the choices that we make in life and the paths that we choose to go down. For humanistic psychologists such as Maslow (1943) and Rogers (1951), freedom is not only possible, it is necessary if we are to become fully functional human beings. Both see self-actualization as a unique human need and form of motivation setting us apart from all other species.

Cognitive psychologists also believe in the importance of free-will. They have adopted a soft determinism view, however. Whereas humanists are most interested in our choices (how each of us sees the road to self actualization), cognitive psychologists focus on the choice of means. In other words, for them it is the rational processing of information which goes into the making of a decision that is most important.

Then there are the neo-Freudian psychologists, one of the most influential of which has been Erich Fromm (1941). In his “Fear of Freedom” he argued that all of us have the potential to control our own lives, but that many of us are too afraid to do so. As a result, we give up our freedom and allow our lives to be governed by circumstances, other people, religious beliefs, political ideology or “irrational” feelings. However, this determinism, he wrote, is not inevitable.  In the very choices that we have to do good or evil, he saw the essence of human freedom.

So, what are we to make of all this? Is it possible that we can have it both ways – that there is room in one’s personal philosophy for both free-will and determinism? I think so, yes.

Each of us is like a fish in a pond, I think. We are free to swim about and to make the best of our circumstances; we can choose to take the baited hook or not, to eat just worms and bugs or to expand our diets to include yummy tadpoles when they are in season. But we are bound by our own relevant realities. There are other fish in their own ponds and these ponds may overlap ours. Some do, but they are not the same. Our ponds are self-limiting until we exercise the option to explore, experiment and grow. This is called education. We can interact with other fish, form schools for mutual support. Or not. We can find a mate of our own kind and procreate. Or not. But our options are always bound/limited by our relevant realities. Some of these realities are physical, some physiological, some emotional, some imaginary.

For me, conscious and rational assessment of the environment (external conditions), our own abilities and possible negative consequences, is the best way to achieve goals. If we fail in our attempts, we can at least learn from our mistakes. But feelings have an important role to play too. Feelings are innate messages from the brain, spontaneous internal reactions to external stimuli that warn us of danger, sometimes inspire us, and sometimes encourage us to risk. But mental illnesses, disabilities as well as special abilities, and propensities toward certain behaviors all undermine free-will. For example, individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) lose control of their thoughts and actions. People who suffer from depression and borderline personality disorder lose control over their emotions. Then too, it is commonly believed that children born to parents who struggle with addictions are more likely themselves to become addicts when they grow up. And addicts are notorious for making poor choices. There is a genetic component to this.

Yes, we have free-will — but only within the bounds of our relevant realities, some of which are in God’s domain. And that is why we pray. Some realities, the faithful believe, only He has the power to change.

Please feel free to post a comment, whether you agree with my conclusions or not.

 

Published in: on April 9, 2016 at 10:48 am  Comments (1)  

Reconciling the Head with the Heart ~ The Resurrection Story

I sat there on the floor thinking about all that my grandma had told me. I thought of many more questions to ask, but I decided that it would be best just to think about them. I could tell that my grandma wasn’t comfortable answering my questions.

resurrection-1Our Sunday School class chose Reverend Mike Slaughter’s book, “Renegade Gospel, The Rebel Jesus” for our Lenten Season study guide this year. Wow! It offered plenty of fodder for discussion and some in the class even took exception with some of the things he wrote about. My biggest issue and greatest revelation came, not during the last chapter, titled Resurrection, but afterwards.

Beginning to speak at the end of the lesson that Sunday morning, I felt my wife’s elbow in my ribs, so I kept quiet. But I’ve been contemplating the topic ever since for this, the final post in my Lenten Season series. Cutting to the chase – I struggle with the whole idea of a physical resurrection.

A little background here for those of you who do not know me well or personally: I grew up in the shadow of the Mormon Temple. That’s a metaphor, folks; I wasn’t literally in the temple’s shadow the whole time I grew up. I was just raised in an extended family culture of Mormonism. And so, Mormon theology had a profound impact on me. By the time I was twelve or thirteen years old, I rejected it totally, and with it the whole idea of Christianity. Reason crowded out what little faith there was. Owing to the influence and example of many loving people in my life since then, however, I have come to embrace the teachings of Christ Jesus and to accept Him as my Lord and Savior, but in the Methodist faith tradition, not the Mormon. I am comfortable as a Methodist because our discipline does not require me to accept the whole of Scripture as inerrant.

I remember asking my dear little old great grandmother, a third generation descendant of the original Mormon pioneers moving into the Great Salt Lake Valley in Utah, this question: “What happens to us after we die?”

I was playing on her kitchen floor at the time with the family’s cat, teasing it with an empty sewing thread spool tied to a string. My memory of this is quite vivid. She said, “One day, long after we have been buried, we will all be made young, healthy and whole again – those of us who keep the commandments.”

“Will everybody be made whole,” grandma?”

“No, not everybody,” she said, “only those who accept the gospel (meaning the gospel according to the Book of Mormon).”

“Will the Gentiles (understood by Mormons to be unbelievers, including those who believe differently about God – Catholics, Jews, Jehovah Witnesses and all those Protestant people) be made whole?” I asked.

“No, dear,” she said. “All those people who die without accepting the gospel will be given a second chance when in Purgatory after somebody is baptized for them. That’s why we Mormons do genealogy and ‘Temple Work’ so that we can be forever with all of our ancestors.”

“So… how does God make everybody whole again, people like Uncle Seth (Uncle Seth had lost an arm in a farming accident)?”

“I don’t know, honey.”

I sat there on the floor thinking about all that my grandma had told me. I thought of many more questions to ask, but I decided that it would be best just to think about them. I could tell that my grandma wasn’t comfortable answering my questions.

To this day, I recite the Apostles Creed with tongue-in-cheek when saying the last sentence, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”  It’s that part about the resurrection of the body that my mind quibbles with – It’s not a trivial matter to me.

According to Reverend Slaughter, and much of the New Testament, we must believe in resurrection, not just Christ’s resurrection on that first Easter Morning, but the eventual resurrection of all believers. Just goggle “what does the bible say about resurrection.” See what you get.

1 Corinthians 15:12-32 reads: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you can say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised…”

The Reverend Slaughter, in his book, claims that we have historical proof of Christ’s resurrection because the Apostle Paul (not one of the twelve) wrote his epistles during and about the year 56 AD, according to Biblical scholars. So many among these more than 500 who witnessed the resurrected Christ were still alive. But who says that more than 500 witnessed the resurrected Christ? Why, the Apostle Paul did, in 1 Corinthians 15:6. “Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.”

This is a logical do-loop and, at best, only second or third-hand evidence. But Paul, you say, himself encountered the risen Christ according to the book of Acts, chapter 9, verses 3 through 9: “Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’  The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.  Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”

Okay, you say, there you go; Paul’s personal experience is corroborated in Scripture. But who wrote Acts? Tradition from the earliest days of Christianity holds that Luke, a companion of the Apostle Paul, wrote both Acts and the Gospel according to Luke (see Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11).

Collusion? Sure sounds like it to me – It’s certainly not corroborated historical proof as the Reverend Slaughter purports.

I recently shared these and other thoughts about Biblical conflicts with scientific evidence and with recorded secular history with a good Christian friend of mine. When I did, he said, “It sounds like you want the Bible to be wrong.”

“Not at all,” I said. “But I don’t consider the Bible to be a True book. I consider it to be a Truth book.

According to Biblical scholars, Gospel writers like Luke didn’t know Jesus personally. None of them were eye witnesses. They did not follow Him around with pens and papyrus recording everything he said and did. Instead, they came to believe in Jesus by listening to others talk about Him. So, when they wrote down what they had come to believe, they used the oral stories that they had heard.

Looking at the Gospels it’s easy to see that Luke heard stories that Mark, Matthew and John did not, stories like The Good Samaritan for example. Similarly, Matthew and Luke heard stories that Mark did not. The Sermon on the Mount for example, in Matthew, becomes The Sermon on the Plain in Luke. We also see that even when they tell the same story, the details are sometimes different. So, it’s the message that matters rather than the details.

According to The Bible Doctor, “The Gospels were not intended to be biographies or historical reports. Each of the Gospels was written to do just one thing: to help people come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah as prophesied in the Old Testament, God in human form.

When we read the Gospels we should look for truths, but not the kind of truths scientists or lawyers look for. We should look for truths about life, about Jesus, about being human, about life in God’s time. This kind of truth is held in the message of the story, not in the details. When we read the Gospels we should not ask what is true. We should ask, ‘What does it mean?’”

The Bible is full of metaphors. The parables themselves are allegories — stories told to convey truths about the Kingdom of God and the nature of mankind – stories filled with metaphors. Biblical scholars agree that the whole book of Job is a masterfully written allegory, it too filled with metaphors. So, could the concept and Biblical stories of Christ’s physical resurrection also be allegories? I think, yes, they could be.

To convince Jews and later, Gentiles, in the early years after the crucifixion that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the living Son of God, The First Council of Nicaea had to choose Gospels that included the resurrection story along with the virgin birth story and other aspects of prophesy written long before. Otherwise, those who were familiar with the prophesies would never accept Him. Then too, promises of physical resurrection and eternal life for believers had, and continue to have, great appeal. Gospels which did not include these stories and testify to the divinity of Christ were rejected by the council. But I don’t need miracles to believe in Christ’s teachings as other, more fundamental Christians do. Neither do I need them to believe in the purpose of His sacrifice and the hope for salvation. To me, it’s all intrinsically true.

I’ve come a long way since that day on my great grandmother’s kitchen floor. For more on my profession of faith, see A Discipleship Testimonial ~ My Conversion by Profession of Faith.

I rather like this quote by Reverend William A. Kolb posted to the website, explorefaith.org: “Nowadays (forty years later) I would say that I am of two minds. One, which is my ‘worldly, common-sense’ way of thinking, tells me that the resurrection might be metaphorical, but if it is, that does not make me believe in Jesus any less, nor in him as the divine model for living and dying, any less.

But there is another part of me that continues to believe in the resurrection literally. And I would say that that is the part of me to which Jesus referred when he said, ‘The Kingdom of God is within you.’ God has put it into my heart to believe in things that neither I nor the world can prove with our mind, but which we believe with our heart, and usually with all our heart.

Do you have to believe this to ‘be a Christian?’ I would say not. I would say that what it takes to ‘be a Christian’ is to want to be a Christian. The more you believe and the more you practice the things that Jesus taught, the stronger a Christian you will be.”

After a discussion about these things over lunch, that good Christian friend I mentioned earlier, the one who said it sounded like I want the Bible to be wrong, said, “Well, at least God has something to work with in you.” That pleased me a great deal.

Whether there truly was an empty tomb and a physical resurrection – whether or not a physical resurrection awaits those of us who believe, I do believe… more in my heart than in my head. But I do believe, and I will be celebrating Easter again this year.

Please feel free to comment on this post, whether you can understand and accept what I choose to believe about resurrection. Even if you vehemently disagree, I would love to dialogue on the subject.

The Creation Story Revisited ~ Heresy? Perhaps

The Creator of mankind is like the farmer who, after claiming and clearing a suitable plot of ground, decides to grow a garden. He prepares the earth, removing stumps and rocks, breaking up the hard ground and adding fertilizer. Then He plants wild seeds – some of one kind and some of another because this is all that He has to start with.

HarvestOpa?” my little darling asked.

“Yes, dear.”

“Are there aliens?”

“Do you mean like aliens from outer space?”

“Yes.” What other kind are there?

“Well,” I said, “an alien is anything or anybody in our midst that either doesn’t belong or is just visiting. The Bible refers to these aliens as sojourners.”

“I’m only asking about the space kind.”

“Oh, I see,” I began. “Well, I don’t rightly know, honey. I’ve never met one, not to my knowledge anyway. Nobody does know for sure, although lots of people have strong beliefs about it, one way or the other. But if there aren’t others out there, it sure would be a big waste of a lot of room now wouldn’t it?”

My little darling giggled.

“The Bible doesn’t come right out and say that aliens exist, but it does talk about Heavenly Hosts and another human-like species that supposedly inhabited the earth when God created humans and gave us domination over the earth. This other species, the Nephilim, were giants, or so the Bible says. They were on the earth in those days. Maybe they got back into their spaceships and left after God favored us over them.

Later on in the Bible, in the book of Ezekiel, it says, ‘As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness…’”

“Gee, then there really are aliens.”

“Maybe”, I said. “But maybe the prophet Ezekiel was just talking about a dream vision that he had had.

“So, did God make us, people like we are today, and what about the dinosaurs? “

“Well, honey, science has discovered a lot about dinosaurs in recent years. Physical evidence tells us that they lived a long, long time before human beings ever did. But the Bible doesn’t mention them at all. It does talk about leviathans which we understand are whales. Things called behemoths are talked about in one book of the Bible, the book of Job. But biblical scholars think that this is making reference to huge mythological creatures or maybe to elephants, hippopotami, rhinoceroses or crocodiles rather than dinosaurs. When the Bible was written, I don’t think people had any idea about how old the earth really is or anything at all about dinosaurs.  As for people being created just like we are today, yes, according to the Bible, we were. But, again, when the Bible was written, I don’t think people knew. To my way of thinking, the creation story in the Bible isn’t so much about how God made people, but why He made people.”

“Why did He make us, Opa?”

“I’m just guessing here, honey,” I said, “But from what I have read in the Bible, God is love and He created us to love and have us to love Him back.

Given what science has learned in the last couple of hundred years about the earth and life on it, here’s how I would describe the creation story. It’s the way I think Jesus would have explained it to His disciples had your question been asked by them: The Creator of mankind is like the farmer who, after claiming and clearing a suitable plot of ground, decides to grow a garden. He prepares the earth, removing stumps and rocks, breaking up the hard ground and adding fertilizer. Then He plants wild seeds – some of one kind and some of another because this is all that He has to start with. Next, he waters the seeds and waits for them to sprout. He removes the weeds that grow up faster than His tender new plants, weeds that would choke out the plants.

All of what grows from the seeds that He plants do not produce fruit or usable grains. So He destroys the useless plants and decides which of the fruitful plants he likes best. From these, he keeps back some of the best seeds for the next season’s planting. And the Farmer is pleased with His harvest.

Over the many years that follow, the best of the best seeds produce plants that cross-pollinate.  So, the following year some of the plants improve. The Farmer is pleased with His harvest and continues the process of choosing the best seeds for the next season’s planting. Some years there is disease or pestilence which kills off some of the plants. But some plants always survive and these pass on resistance through their seeds to the next generation of plants. And the Farmer is pleased with His harvest.

In time, the Farmer plants seeds in newly claimed and prepared fields. In these fields, however, the soil is different. The climate where these fields are located is different too; there is more or less rain and more or less sunshine. So the seeds produce differently and the plants evolve – not better or worse, necessarily, but appropriately for the conditions where they grow. And the Farmer is pleased with His harvest.

Please feel free to comment on this posting. I would enjoy dialoguing on this subject.

Published in: on March 20, 2015 at 4:06 am  Leave a Comment  
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Yes, I Believe ~ But Why?

Christ’s teachings alone are enough for me. Hope in Him whose teachings inspire, sustains me in times of peril. When I have no answers and can find none, God is there.

newmeNuance is something that challenges understanding, especially outside of the scientific community. Scientists, engineers and statisticians strive to communicate with precision. People of faith — not so much. This is not to suggest that scientists, engineers and statisticians cannot also be people of faith. But the same word or phrase can mean different things to different people, even when used in the same way. Take the word, “faith,” for example.

When a fellow believer spoke recently about growing in faith, I asked him what he meant. “Do you mean growing more certain of what you believe discounting reason, or do you mean growing in understanding of what it means to be a believer and practicing what it is that you do believe?”

Faith is a word that has many different meanings. Among them are: confidence or trust in a person or thing; belief that is not based on proof; belief in God or in the doctrines or teaching of religion; the obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, a promise, or an engagement as in keeping the faith.

A scientist would probably shy away from using the word, faith. But if he did use it, he would likely mean it in the sense of having high confidence or trust in something. Religious persons are not so shy and use the word quite often. When they do, they most often mean it as a synonym for belief, the noun form, and to believe, the verb form, meaning to accept the doctrines and teachings of their particular faith persuasions.

When I was young and televisions where first becoming commonplace, there was a program one night a week called The Jane Froman Show. Others of my generation might remember Ms. Froman best for the movie of her life story, “With A Song in My Heart,” I do remember the movie, but I do not remember her TV show. Perhaps this is because ours was one of the last households on our block to have a TV. Anyway, Ms. Froman commissioned the writing of a special song, to inspire hope and faith to Americans because she was troubled by the outbreak of war in Korea so soon after the end of World War II. The song, “I Believe,” became the first hit song ever introduced on TV and was recorded by many others in addition to Ms. Froman. It became both a popular and religious standard of the day. Frank Sinatra  recorded it. So did Perry Como, Any Williams, Barbara Streisand and Elvis Presley. Frankie Laine‘s version of it spent eighteen non-consecutive weeks at the top of the UK Singles Chart. The most successful version of the song in America, Laine’s recording reached #2 on the charts for three straight weeks.

I have long loved this song. I loved it when I was young and I love it now. When I began this missive, the lyrics came hauntingly back to me. But as much and as long as I have loved it, it has done nothing to increase my faith. Neither has it done anything to help explain my lack of faith. Yes, I believe, but not because of the many times I have heard a newborn baby cry. The miracle of new life is awesome to behold, especially when it is a child of your own. But there is no empirical evidence that even suggests that every drop of rain produces a flower. And we all know people who have gone astray with no one coming to show them the way.

So, why do people believe? More to the point, why do I believe?

“Scholars in the fields of cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology, cognitive anthropology, artificial intelligence, cognitive neuroscience, neurobiology, zoology, and ethology are all seeking to explain how human minds acquire, generate, and transmit religious memes by means of ordinary cognitive capacities.”

I borrowed the above words from Wikipedia, folks. I don’t even rightly know the difference between one of these disciplines and the next. But I do know that scientific theories can do nothing to ease the anxieties that a belief in something greater than oneself can comfort.

Some people point to the complexity of our planet and say that this suggests a deliberate Designer who not only created our universe, but sustains it today. They say that the universe and everything in it had a beginning and that the Big Bang just doesn’t make sense. They say that the universe operates by uniform laws of nature and ask, if not God, then why? But these so-called proofs are not proofs. They are just unanswered questions – questions that our limited minds may never be able to answer. My answer, notwithstanding all of my doubts, notwithstanding all the contradictions between science, in which I have considerable confidence, and Scripture, itself being filled with errors and contradictions, is that I am a better person professing Christ as my Lord and striving to live according to His teachings. I am a better person being in fellowship with others striving to do the same. Christ’s teachings alone are enough for me. Hope in Him whose teachings inspire, sustains me in times of peril. When I have no answers and can find none, God is there.

The great mind of modern times, Professor Stephen Hawking, author of the best selling book, “A Brief History of Time,” has said that heaven and belief in an afterlife are fairytales for people who are afraid of the dark. Yes, that may be true. But, while fairytales are not true, in the telling of them great truths are often found. And I am one of those mortals who does fear the dark — not so much for myself but for those whom I love. And so, I believe. I chose to believe because there is comfort in the belief. There is no comfort in unbelief.

Please feel free to post a comment. I would enjoy dialogue on this subject.

Published in: on March 16, 2015 at 6:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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In the Spirit of Equity ~ For on Earth There Is No Equality

I understand why so many have difficulty with the idea of “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” It’s an ideal not possible in capitalistic economies, especially those that shun or are suspicious of every aspect of socialism, like public schools, Head Start, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

scales of justice“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’

‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. ‘The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’”

~ Mark 12:28-31

Neighbor, you ask? Of whom was Jesus speaking?

Surely you recall the parable of the Good Samaritan. So, would not the unemployed father across town be your neighbor? How about the woman taking care of your children so that you can go to work? How about the part time employees of the largest, most successful retail sales corporation in the world?

Among those of us who know Him, can there be any doubt about how God wants us to treat these neighbors? Does He not want us to treat them fairly and impartially — equitably – not withholding or denying them a living wage? Yes. Even so, this is a tall order. It’s the best we could possibly do because, as we all know, on earth there is no equality.

I understand why so many have difficulty with the idea of “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” Notwithstanding the great and inspiring words in our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” there is no equality. God has not given to each of us in “equal” measures those things that can be measured in human terms. Some of us are born in the bosom of advantage and luxury. Others are born and reared in poverty and perpetual discouragement. No, there is no equality. Yet God commands us to love one another, whether rich or poor — to treat others, our neighbors, with equity.

What does equity look like? I’ll tell you what I think it looks like. It looks like a society in which children don’t go hungry, where they all go to schools where loving teachers are encouraged with enough time and compensation to be the best teachers they can possibly be – schools where vaccinations and school lunches are freely provided. It looks like a society in which a day’s pay, for those willing to work, is at least sufficient to subsist on, to pay for a day’s worth of shelter, food, clothing and medical care. That’s how it seemed to be when I was growing up, which may have been illusionary I admit. But it surely is not this way nowadays, not for everyone.

No, I understand why so many have difficulty with the idea of “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” It’s an ideal not possible in capitalistic economies , especially economies that shun or are suspicious of every aspect of socialism, like public schools, Head Start, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

After retiring from a career in the military, I was hired by a firm providing engineering and programmatic support for military materiel procurement programs. Launched into this follow-on career by my successful involvement in operational test and evaluation for the U.S. Army, it wasn’t long before I was made a branch chief in one of the firm’s many departments. Test and Evaluation was my specialty and I was made a manager because I attracted customers who were willing to pay handsomely for my help. I could have been an ineffective manager, but that had nothing to do with my promotion. It was my expertise in the discipline that got me promoted.

I began to build my team, hiring first a young man who a customer of mine, a former co-worker, wanted to help. He wanted to help not because he was particularly good at anything, but because he was a friend. It soon became evident that he would not be contributing much to the collective effort. But he was now mine to groom and to supervise, which added to my workload. Next, I looked for a new hire that could provide help with human factors engineering. With this hire, I was quite fortunate; the man I hired did excellent work and could write rings around my first hire. My third hire would have been a highly qualified aerodynamics engineer, someone who could serve as my deputy. But, owing to contract constraints and externalities, my branch never quite grew sufficient to justify this third hire. I did interview some candidates though. One was particularly impressive.

She was a graduate of the Navy’s Post Graduate Engineering School and a C-141 pilot. She, a major in the Air Force, had worked in test and evaluation and in the program management office for the new C-17 cargo airplane. Her resume was on the top of my pile of candidates’ resumes when my boss called me in to inquire about my search for a deputy manager. “Who’s your first choice?” he asked.

When I told him, he rolled his eyes then said, “Yeah, I noticed her when she came through for the interview with you. Nice Stems?”

“Sir? Nice stems?” I asked.

“Legs,” he said. “She has nice legs.”

“Yes, she does. But what has that got to do with anything?”

“That has everything to do with whether we can offer her the position.”

“Why is that?” I asked naively.

“For one thing, this is a business for men. Most of your prospective customers would have no confidence in her ability to do the job, even if she could leap higher than all her male competition. Next, were we to hire her and pour time and effort getting her up to speed in this male dominated culture of ours, within two or three years, she’d be engaged and or pregnant. Her new husband, likely another service member still on active duty, would be reassigned to Timbuktu and she’d be gone. No, not her. Who’s your second choice?”

Yeah. I get it. I understand why so many have difficulty with the idea of “Equal Pay for Equal Work.”

What does the Bible say about equity?

In Mattew 20:1-15 we read: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first. And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’”

“And whatever is right I will give you…”

Yes, I understand that, in this parable, Jesus was talking about salvation, and the master of the house represents God. He was talking about how the Father will reward even those who come to Him in the eleventh hour. But it also illustrates how a godly employer, seeing his laborers’ needs, should satisfy them according to his ability to do so.

Yes, I understand why so many have difficulty with the idea of “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” But why can’t we at least make better efforts towards equity?

What a progressive idea! Yeah, but it’s a Christian idea too. Is it not?

Please feel free to leave a comment. I would enjoy dialoguing on this subject.

Published in: on March 13, 2015 at 2:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Forgiveness ~ A Spiritual Gift if Ever There Was One

Learning how to forgive others is one of the most unnatural duties we have as Christians. It goes against human nature.

forgivePreparing our hearts and minds for the holy days that lead up to Eastertide – for which Lent is intended – one must consider what Christ Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection was all about. One word comes to mind: forgiveness.

The Scriptures are replete with admonitions about the importance of forgiving one another – like, for example: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Yet Christians struggle with this. People of all faiths do; we are human. But some have a greater capacity for forgiveness than most. And so, I find it curious that the Apostle Paul did not specifically include forgiveness as a spiritual gift in any of his epistles found in the New Testament. Surely God is concerned with our ability and willingness to forgive, and Paul was very much aware of this. In Ephesians 4:32 Paul wrote, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Yet he did not list forgiveness as a spiritual gift. I wonder why.

The spiritual gifts are found in three New Testament passages attributed to Paul: Romans 12:6-81 Corinthians 12:8-10;28-30, and Ephesians 4:11. They are: Administration, Apostleship, Discernment, Evangelism, Exhortation, Faith, Giving, Healing, Tongues and the Interpretation of Tongues, Knowledge, Leadership, Mercy, Miracles, Pastor/Shepherd, Prophecy, Serving/Ministering, Teaching, Wisdom. Perhaps Paul intended for us to understand that forgiveness is included in the gift of mercy, like pastoring and shepherding are part and partial — likewise, serving and ministering. I don’t know.

A person recently accused me of behaving in an unchristian fashion toward them, but said that she forgives me. Be not concerned about her accusation, friends. I’m not, for I know that she was just being hateful. It’s who she is. But her accusation got me to thinking about just what forgiveness, in a Christian sense, means.

Learning how to forgive others is one of the most unnatural duties we have as Christians. It goes against human nature. It’s a supernatural act that Christ Jesus was capable of. And so, I believe it requires a gift of the spirit. When we are hurt by someone, we want to hold a grudge. We want justice. Sadly, it’s hard for us to just trust God with that.

Paul wrote in Romans 12:19, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

If we cannot take revenge, then we must forgive. God commands it. But how? How can we let it go when we have been hurt unjustly?

The answer lies in understanding the Trinity’s role in forgiveness. Christ’s role was to die for our sins. God the Father’s role was to accept Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf and to forgive us. Today, the Holy Spirit’s role is to enable us to do those things in the Christian life that we cannot do on our own, like forgiving others.

Refusing to forgive leaves an open wound in our heart, our soul, which festers into bitterness, resentment, and depression. For our own good, and the good of the person who hurt us, we simply must forgive. But this doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting. It doesn’t mean that we have to also trust. It simply means that we will be kind and tenderhearted toward the persons whom we forgive – that we will not seek to get back, that we will set aside blame, and that we will be open to the others’ apologies. It means allowing new beginnings.

In his book, Landmines in the Path of the Believer, Charles Stanley says: “We are to forgive so that we may enjoy God’s goodness without feeling the weight of anger burning deep within our hearts. Forgiveness does not mean we recant the fact that what happened to us was wrong. Instead, we roll our burdens onto the Lord and allow Him to carry them for us.”

My friends, if we trust God for our salvation, we must trust Him also to make things right. He will do so, according to His plan for us, when we forgive. He will heal our wounds so that we can move on.

Please feel free to post a comment in response to this. I would enjoy discussing the subject.

 

Published in: on March 5, 2015 at 7:18 pm  Comments (7)  
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A Modern-Day Prodigal Son

But, what does the father say?  He says, “My children, I love you all dearly and everything I have will be yours someday. But we have to celebrate and be glad, don’t you see? Your brother, my sons, and your father, my grandchildren, was dead to us. But he is alive again. He was lost to us, but now he is found.”

prodialsonI know you can’t read the words that comprise this piece of art. They are from the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 15 verses 11 through 32. My dear wife bought it for me years ago when one of our three sons was lost to us for a time, and then returned. In case you don’t recognize the passage, it is the parable of the prodigal son. Jesus told it ages ago to people gathered around to hear his teachings. These people included tax collectors and sinners. But the Pharisees and other rabbis were there too, listening but not hearing.

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Imagine, if you will, this modern-day equivalent to the parable.

A man has three sons, one by a previous marriage, the oldest. For personal reasons having had nothing to do with anything done to him by his father, his step-mother or brothers, decided to alienate himself from them and from his very own children as well. He did so for the sake of a new relationship, a new wife. For five long years his family heard nothing from him, save for Christmas cards sent cruelly and disingenuously by his new wife, a jealous and controlling woman. Time passed; hearts grew bitter and resentful. Then, one day, after the son’s new marriage relationship had hit a breaking point, the son reached out to his father, saying that he is sorry and asking for forgiveness.

What did the father do? He did exactly what the prodigal son’s father did. He enthusiastically raced out with open arms to welcome him back.

But the son’s brothers aren’t so anxious to have the elder son back. Neither are the son’s children. They are still hurt. They are angry, and who can blame them? “Don’t trust him,” they say to their father and grandfather. “Consider all that he has done to us, the lies that he has told. He is a drunkard, a thief and a liar. He abandoned us when we most needed him. He must first atone for his behavior.”

But, what does the father say?  He says, “My children, I love you dearly, all of you, and everything I have will be yours someday. But we have to celebrate and be glad, don’t you see? Your brother, my sons, and your father, my grandchildren, was dead to us. But he is alive again. He was lost to us, but now he is found.”

In the parable as told by Jesus, the father represents God, of course – God who loves us all despite our sins. He longs for us to turn away from sin and to come home. But who is the eldest son? Why, he is us, we who are Judgmental and unforgiving – we who would punish the repentant sinner until… until when?

Please feel free to post a comment if you wish.

Published in: on March 2, 2015 at 3:28 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Spirits World ~ Why We Alcoholics Drink

It’s like what one of my sons recently said, “… a medicine and a poison.”  Yes, it is a medicine, a dependable old chemical friend that provides existential relief. But it’s also a friend that will stab us in the back if we let it.

ManhattanBecause of recent events in my life, and in the lives of certain loved ones, I am reposting this article, this testimony, from over a year ago. In doing so I hope that it might serve as inspiration for all who happen across it and chose to read it. Why? Because I believe that all of us who drink alcohol regularly or frequently, whether alone or socially, and do so because we like how it makes us feel, are, on some level, alcoholics. It’s time for us all to stop equivocating, to know what it is we are doing, to acknowledge our addiction.

I come from a long line of alcoholics. The earliest one that I know about was my maternal great grandfather, Joseph Anderson. Although he held a fairly high station in the Melchizedek Priesthood of the Mormon Church, he imbibed quite often. My mother told me about it. She said that, as a little girl she often stayed with her grandparents and that she overheard her grandmother, her mother and her aunts talking about it. It was a source of considerable family shame.

There was a swing mom told be about hanging from a tall, old cottonwood tree just outside the bedroom window where my mother slept. Her grandpa Joe had hung it there for her, but would sit in it himself at night and sing to himself while drinking his homemade wine. This made a lasting impression on mom. We laughed about it occasionally, mom and me, when we would sit drinking together in her kitchen. Yes, mom taught me well.

The affliction, if we can call it that, seemed to skip over my mother’s mother, although my grandma could gulp down an occasional toddy herself, and do it with considerable aplomb. But mom’s biological father, or so I’ve been told, was not only a heavy drinker, but a drug user as well.

The affliction hit my mom hard. A lifelong heavy drinker like her Aunt Mic before her, another early alcoholic in my family that I know about, her drinking finally took her life. Mom died from a diseased liver.

Mom was married four different times and had several other men in her life; all of them were alcoholics including, I presume, my biological father whom I never had a chance to meet before his death. And then there is me and my siblings, half-brothers and sisters all. But I won’t speak of our lifestyles except to say that I like manhattans best. I like them on the rocks sans the cherry garnish. They are my favorite libation. Libation – now that’s an interesting word – it’s defined as a drink poured out to a deity. Sometimes I will drink two or three manhattans in a day, the first while I am preparing an evening meal for my wife and myself. The last is often left half empty, the first two and a half having put me soundly to sleep. But I never drink when we have our little darling, my great granddaughter with us. Neither will I take more than one drink before driving or drink anything when I think that I might have to drive somewhere. I go days, sometime weeks without drinking anything. And, before my retirement from multiple careers, I never missed a day of work because of my drinking. That means that I’m not really an alcoholic, right? No, that just means that I am a more responsible alcoholic than some.

I know that my drinking, the amount that I drink, is not healthy for me. I know too that it is not healthy for my marriage relationship because it worries my wife. Although my mom was little concerned about how her drinking affected relationships in her life, she knew too that her drinking was not physically healthy. Still, she drank. Still, I drink.  But why? When asked that question, according to my mother, my great grandfather answered, “I just like the way it makes my silly head feel.” But do we who like how it makes us feel like it to death? Yes, often, too often.

What do the Scriptures have to say about drinking? A lot actually, most of it warnings about drinking to excess and drunkenness, like this passage from the Book of Proverbs 20:1, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.”  But there are also passages from the Gospels like this one from Mattew 11:18-19, “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” And let’s not forget about the first miracle that Jesus performed, the turning of water into good wine at the Wedding in Cana. According to John 2;1-11, “On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.'”

The rub seems to come then, not from the drinking itself but from drinking to excess.

There is a great article that I’ve found in the professional journal, Psychology Today, called, “The Benefits of Addiction: Why Alcoholics Drink.” It restates and confirms that there is a body of evidence recognizing the correlation of alcoholism in successive generations, thus suggesting a genetic component to alcoholism. But it says, “People who believe in the disease theory are dumb. They can’t help it, so we shouldn’t mock them. You see, they don’t have enough human insight to answer the question, ‘Why do alcoholics drink even though it hurts them?’ Other than by positing that they have some inbred disease that compels them to drink, that is.”

Wow! Now that hurts. It says that I can’t blame those who came before me for my affliction. It’s my affliction and I own it.

According to this article, drinkers like me have discovered that the experience of drinking alleviates deep-seated anxieties, anxieties that all of us have about ourselves and about our lives. Some call these anxieties pain. In other words, alcohol provides more than just a temporary camaraderie to alcoholics. It’s like what one of my sons recently said, “… a medicine and a poison.”  Yes, it is a medicine, a dependable old chemical friend that provides existential relief. But it’s also a friend that will stab us in the back if we let it — a friend that could eventually kill us either softly or roughly. From this friend we derive psychological benefits which are hard to relinquish. This is why those of us with the affliction, whether genetically predisposed to or conditioned to by association or experimentation, find it hard to walk away from. The worst of it for us, the afflicted, is that when stress in our lives becomes severe, we will often turn to it in excess.

One last quote from the referenced article: “People who have learned to allay their anxieties and fears, to feel good — or at least okay — about themselves while intoxicated, to gain some sense of control that they otherwise are bereft of — well, those are hard people to persuade to give up the bottle. Which is what AA and the 12 steps are selling — “Step over to the sunny side of the street where I live — it’s much better here.”

Please feel free to leave a comment to this posting. I would enjoy dialoging on the subject.

Published in: on February 26, 2015 at 10:53 am  Comments (5)  
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The Difference Between One’s Spirit and One’s Soul

My little darling wiped her tears away on her sleeve. She hugged me and repeated what I had said, “You will never leave me, Opa.” Then she said, “You will always be in my heart.”

newmeWhat is the difference between a spirit and a soul? Do human beings possess a soul while other living creatures do not?  I’ll tell you the truth. I don’t rightly know. Even though I have studied Scriptural passages about this, I remain a bit confused. Nevertheless, I can tell you what I have chosen to believe. I believe that human beings have a spirit, but we are not spirits. Animals too, I believe, whether they have a soul or not, have spirits. Surely they do. They have personalities, do they not? Have you not heard of a spirited horse? Have you not enjoyed the company of a friendly pet, or been worried by a bad tempered dog?

In humans, according to Scripture, the soul and the spirit are connected, but separable (Hebrews 4:12). The soul is who we are, that which lives on apart from our physical selves. The spirit is the nature of our soul, what some call our heart – as in tender hearted or hard hearted.

What does it mean then to be spiritual?

Spiritual, I believe, is the adjective form of the word, “spirit,” which is a noun. The word “character” could serve as a good synonym. It is almost always used, however, in reference to what people believe beyond the secular, the scientific, the physical world.

According to the New Testament,  only believers are said to be spiritually alive (1 Corinthians 2:11;Hebrews 4:12;James 2:26), while unbelievers are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-5;Colossians 2:13). In Paul’s writing, the spiritual was pivotal to the life of the believer (1 Corinthians 2:14;3:1;Ephesians 1:3;5:19;Colossians 1:9;3:16). The spirit is the element in humanity which gives us the ability to have an intimate relationship with God. But (John 4:24) confuses things, I think, by calling God himself a spirit.

The word “soul” can refer to both the immaterial and material aspects of humanity. Unlike human beings having a spirit, human beings are souls. In its most basic sense, the word “soul” means “life.” But  beyond this essential meaning, the Bible speaks of the soul in many contexts. One of these is humanity’s eagerness to sin (Luke 12:26). Humanity is naturally evil, and our souls are tainted as a result.

A few months ago, while we were walking together hand-in-hand, my darling little great granddaughter started weeping after she told me that she loves me. I asked her what was wrong. She said that her mommy had told her that I was getting old – that someday I would die. “I’m really going to miss you when you die, Opa,” she said.

I stopped, got down on my good knee, the one that God gave me, took her little hands in mine and said to her, “Honey, someday I will die, yes. But I’m never going to leave you.”

“How can that be, Opa?”

“I will live on forever in your heart, sweetheart. As long as you remember me and the things that we have talked about , the things that I am teaching you, I will be alive in the most important way. Our love will survive, and our love is the best part of us.”

My little darling wiped her tears away on her sleeve. She hugged me and repeated what I had said, “You will never leave me, Opa.” Then she said, “You will always be in my heart.”

From a child and from what I wanted her to believe, I discovered what I believe about the difference between one’s soul and one’s spirit. Our exchange as we walked that day is what led me to research what the Scriptures say about it. So my soul may go to heaven when I die, and my spirit will go with me. But my spirit will live on too in the memories of those who will have known me while I still had a physical life.

Whether you believe as I do or not, please feel free to leave me a comment about this. 

Published in: on February 24, 2015 at 9:01 am  Comments (3)  
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